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Beer brewed after a 13th-century recipe using gruit herbs

Gruit (alternately grut or gruyt) is a herb mixture used for bittering and flavouring beer, popular before the extensive use of hops. Gruit or grut ale may also refer to the beverage produced using gruit.

Historically, gruit is the term used in an area today covered by the Netherlands, Belgium and westernmost Germany. Today however, gruit is a colloquial term for any beer seasoned with gruit-like herbs.

Gruit is a combination of herbs, commonly including sweet gale (Myrica gale), mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea), horehound (Marrubium vulgare), and Calluna heather (Calluna vulgaris). Gruit varied somewhat, each gruit producer including different herbs to produce unique flavors and effects. Other adjunct herbs include juniper berries, ginger, caraway seed, aniseed, nutmeg, cinnamon, mint and occasionally hops in variable proportions (although gruit today is often sought out for lacking hops).

Historical context[edit]

The word gruit stems from an area now in the Netherlands, Belgium and westernmost Germany. Here, the sale of gruit was a monopoly held by various local authorities, and as such a de facto tax on beer. The word gruit could refer to the herb mixture itself or the monopoly of its sale. The earliest reference to gruit dates from the late 10th century, and although largely replaced by hops in the 14th and 15th century, gruit beer was locally produced in Westphalia up to the 17th century.[1]

Outside the area where the gruit monopoly applied, other countries and regions produced ales containing spices, but they were not named gruit. For instance, some traditional types of unhopped beer such as sahti in Finland, which is spiced with juniper berries and twigs, have survived the advent of hops.

In both the area where gruit existed and outside it, the traditional spices were gradually replaced by hops, in a slow sweep across Europe occurring between the 11th century (in the south and east of the Holy Roman Empire) and the late 16th century (Great Britain). In 16th century Britain, a distinction was made between ale, which was unhopped, and beer, brought by Dutch merchants, which was hopped.[2] Currently, however, ale usually refers to beer produced through a top-fermentation process, not unhopped beer.

The main factor for the replacement of spices by hops is that hops were cheaper (especially in the gruit area, where the price of beer flavouring spices was artificially kept high) and were better at rendering the beer keepable. This preservative effect is thought to have had a large impact on the early movement to switch over, although other plants commonly used in gruit mixes, for example sage, rosemary or bog myrtle, also have antiseptic properties likely to extend the shelf life of beer.[original research?]

Spruce tips as a local food ingredient has a practical aspect as well; it is a plentiful resource in northern latitudes like Alaska, whereas hops must be imported from the lower 48 United States.[3]

Modern brews[edit]

The 1990s microbrewery movement in North America and Europe saw a renewed interest in unhopped beers and several have tried their hand at reviving ales brewed with gruits, or plants that once were used in it. Commercial examples include:

Beer name Gruit Brewery Location
Beann Gulban Heather White Hag[4] Sligo, Ireland
Golden State of Mind Chamomile, Coriander and Orange Peel Ale Industries Oakland, CA, USA
Fraoch Heather flowers, sweet gale and ginger Williams Brothers Scotland, UK
Alba Pine twigs and spruce buds Williams Brothers Scotland, UK
Myrica Sweet gale Hanlons[5] England, UK
Gageleer Sweet gale Proefbrouwerij Belgium
Cervoise Heather flowers, spices, hops Lancelot Brittany, France
Artemis Mugwort and wild bergamot (Also known as bee balm or horsemint) Moonlight Brewing Company Santa Rosa, California, USA
Alaskan Winter Ale Young Sitka spruce tips Alaskan Brewing Company AK[6]
Our Special Ale Young Sitka spruce tips Anchor Brewing Company San Francisco, CA, USA
Spruce Tip Ale Young Sitka spruce tips Haines Brewing Company AK, USA
Spruce Tip Gruit Young Sitka spruce tips Wolf Tree Brewery Seal Rock, OR, USA
Island Trails Spruce Tip Wheat Wine Young Sitka spruce tips Kodiak Island Brewing Company AK, USA
Sitka Spruce Tip Ale Young Sitka spruce tips Baranof Island Brewing Company AK[7][8]
Bog Water[9] Myrica gale (bog myrtle) Beau's All Natural Brewing Company Vanleek Hill, Ontario, Canada
Spring Fever Gruit Organic barley, heather, and spices Salt Spring Island Brewery British Columbia, Canada
Various Weekly Offerings Locally foraged herbs, flowers, roots and berries as well as classic gruit ingredients Earth Eagle Brewings[10] Portsmouth, NH, USA
Posca Rustica Recipe based on archeological research at The Archeosite D'Aubechies Brasserie Dupont Wallonia, Belgium
Namastale Juniper and Rosemary Church Key Brewing Campbellford, Ontario, Canada
Dunes Wormwood, mugwort, turmeric, lemongrass, and sage Solarc Brewing Los Angeles, CA, USA
Session Gruit Chamomile and elderberries Solarc Brewing Los Angeles, CA, USA
Earl Earl Grey Tea, lemon verbena, and foraged rosemary Solarc Brewing Los Angeles, CA, USA
Wine Trash Granache grape must and Yarrow Flower Solarc Brewing Los Angeles, CA, USA
Sun Eater Rosemary and dried lemon peel 4th Tap Brewing Co-op[11] Austin, TX, USA
Jopen Koyt Sweet gale and other herbs Jopen Haarlem, Netherlands
A River Runs Gruit Lavender, Chamomile, Rose hips, and Elderberry Rock Art Brewery Morrisville, VT, USA
Spruce Stout Spruce Tips Rock Art Brewery Morrisville, VT, USA
Zingiberene Ginger Gruit Ginger Schmohz Brewing Company Grand Rapids, MI, USA
Ancient Gruit Ale Wormwood, Grains of Paradise, Hand-picked Wild Yarrow The Beer Diviner Cherry Plain, NY, USA
Stop Trying to Make Gruit Happen {Barrel aged (6.5%)} Denizen's Brewing Company Silver Spring, MD, USA
Gruit Yarrow, sweet gale and Labrador tea Proper Brewing Company Salt Lake City, UT, USA
Earthbound Gruit Missouri Cedar branches, heather tips, basswood honey Dangerous Man Brewing Co. Minneapolis, MN, USA
Nursia Star Anise, caraway, ginger, and spruce Avery Brewing Co. Boulder, CO, USA
Special Herbs Lemongrass, hyssop, Sichuan peppercorns, and orange peel Upright Brewery Portland, Oregon, USA

Since 2013, craft brewers with an interest in making gruit ales have banded together to mark February 1 as International Gruit Day.[12] The day is intended to raise awareness of and pay homage to the historical traditions of brewing with botanicals.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Aloys Schulte, 'Vom Grutbiere. Eine Studie zur Wirtschafts- und Verfassungsgeschichte', in: Annalen des historischen Vereins für den Niederrhein insbesondere die alte Erzdiözese Köln, nr. 85 (1908), p. 118-146.
  2. ^ Ian S. Hornsey, A history of beer and brewing, Cambridge 2003, p. 323.
  3. ^ James Roberts (March 2, 2012), "Spruce tips to birch syrup, beers with the Alaska touch", Anchorage Press
  4. ^ "The White Hag Brewery - An Irish Brewing Company".
  5. ^ "Award Winning Devon Brewery - Hanlons Brewery - Exeter Devon". Hanlons Brewery - Award Winning Craft Beers Devon.
  6. ^ Beer Blotter editors (November 12, 2010), "Alaskan Winter Ale is released", Seattle Post-Intelligencer
  7. ^ James Roberts (June 4, 2014), "Spruced Up", Anchorage Press
  8. ^ Oliver & Colicchio 2011, p. 655.
  9. ^ "Bog Water - Beaus". 2015-06-08. Retrieved 2016-04-24.
  10. ^ "Home - Earth Eagle Brewings".
  11. ^ "Earth 4th Tap Co-op homepage".
  12. ^ "International Gruit Day - February 1st". Retrieved 2015-11-03.


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